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A Nor’easter brought over six inches of snow to New England this past weekend, closing several east coast airports and causing over three hundred and thirty Massachusetts schools to cancel. Nevertheless, on Monday morning, Harvard students trekked through the snow to class.
Blizzards may have granted Harvard students a chance to sled on dining hall trays or to construct giant snow phalluses, but hardly ever will a snowstorm relieve undergraduates from classes.
The official FAS “inclement weather” policy states that since most of Harvard’s student body and faculty live in close proximity to the college, the school “rarely declares a University-wide weather emergency.”
When there is bad weather, “all staff are expected to make every effort...to be at work,” the policy reads, and employees who choose to stay at home “will normally be expected to cover the absence with vacation or personal time.”
Harvard has been so reluctant to cancel school on account of snow that former Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III told The Crimson in reference to a 1977 blizzard that “Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world.”
But in February 1978, a severe snowstorm forced University officials to close Harvard for three days. It is the only known closure due to snow in the University’s memory, according to Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, who teaches Religion 1513, “History of Harvard and its Presidents”.
Even this closure occurred only after the Massachusetts governor declared a state of emergency, brought in the national guard, and restricted any unnecessary travel. After the blizzard hit, many people asked then University President Derek C. Bok why he did not immediately shut the University down. According to Gomes, Bok responded, “I tried to, but I didn’t know how.”
The storm, which The Crimson reported brought ninety-two miles per hour gusts of wind and dumped over a foot of snow in Harvard Yard, essentially locked down the entirety of Massachusetts for five days, Gomes said.
It may provide some comfort to Harvard students that most other colleges in the Boston and Cambridge area have similar snow policies. Officials at Northeastern, Boston University, and Boston College said that closure due to snow is very rare. However, unlike Harvard—which appears to have been devoid of snow days except for the three days in 1978—officials at these schools said their universities on average close down due to inclement weather anywhere from once a year to once every couple years.
Some of Harvard’s biggest rival schools also shut down more frequently. Princeton just last year experienced one snow day and one delayed arrival, a school official said. An official at Yale guessed there has been no more than one snow day in the past decade.
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